Laundromat Worker Sues for Wage Violations
Worker labored over 12 hour days for $2 an hour
(San Francisco, CA, October 7, 2011)
A former solo laundromat attendant in Oakland is suing her employer claiming gross violations of minimum wage and overtime laws. The plaintiff Veronica Martínez claims that she frequently worked over 12 hours a day for six and sometimes seven days in a row for as little as $2 an hour. The lawsuit, Milagro Verónica Martínez de Angel v. Tuyen T. Nguyen dba Pro Coin Laundry, et al., was filed today in the Northern District of California and claims the defendants violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the California Labor Code and unlawfully terminated Ms. Martínez in violation of public policy. Ms. Martínez is represented by The Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center (LAS–ELC).
In the lawsuit, Ms. Martínez alleges that she worked at the Pro Coin laundromat from the time it opened at 7 a.m. until it closed at 8 or 9 p.m., six to seven days a week with one half-hour unpaid break for lunch—amounting to approximately 75 hours per week. For her work, Ms. Martínez claims she was paid a fixed bi-weekly salary that began at $300 and was eventually raised to $400.
Ms. Martínez also claims she often informed her employer that she was being underpaid for the hours she was required to work and that on at least one occasion her employer reacted violently to her request and punched her several times on her right arm.
“If proven, this would fall under the very definition of ‘wage theft’,” said Charlotte Noss, Skadden Fellow at The Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center. “We would have an unscrupulous employer taking advantage of a hard working employee and paying them next to nothing—with no regard to state or federal labor laws whatsoever.”
The employer is also charged with retaliating against Ms. Martínez once she asserted her workplace rights. After failing to convince her employer to pay her proper wages, she contacted the LAS–ELC’s Workers’ Rights Clinic. Shortly thereafter, the LAS–ELC sent a demand letter to Pro Coin Laundry on Ms. Martínez’ behalf. Three days later, according to Ms. Martínez, the Defendants attempted to force Ms. Martínez to fill out an employment application and an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form. Ms. Martínezclaims that she had never been asked to fill out any paper work during her prior 15 months of employment at the laundromat. When she refused to sign the papers, Ms. Martínez was suspended.
“These allegations involve just one case, but we understand that situations similar to the allegations of Ms. Martínez’ happen every day, all over the country,” said Fernando Flores, Wage and Hour Litigation Program Director at The Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center. “Lawsuits like this can send a very important message to bad actors: Wage Theft is Illegal. Workers have rights, and this includes adequate payment of all labor performed and to be free from retaliatory practices in asserting these rights.”